The reign of Charles the First, succeeded by the Commonwealth of England, forms a period unparalleled by any preceding one in the annals of mankind. It was for the English nation the great result of all former attempts to ascertain and to secure the just freedom of the subject. The prerogative of the sovereign and the rights of the people were often imagined to be mutual encroachments, and were long involved in contradiction, in an age of unsettled opinions and disputed principles. At length the conflicting parties of monarchy and democracy, in the weakness of their passions, discovered how much each required the other for its protector. This age offers the finest speculations in human nature; it opens a protracted scene of glory and of infamy; all that elevates, and all that humiliates our kind, wrestling together, and expiring in a career of glorious deeds, of revolting crimes, and even of ludicrous infirmities!
The French Revolution is the commentary of the English; and a commentary at times more important than the text which it elucidates. It has thrown a freshness over the antiquity of our own history; and, on returning to it, we seem to possess the feelings, and to be agitated by the interests, of contemporaries. The circumstances and the persons which so many imagine had passed away, have been reproduced under our own eyes. In other histories we accept the knowledge of the characters and the incidents on the evidence of the historian; but here we may take them from our own conviction, since to extinct names and to past events we can apply the reality which we ourselves have witnessed.
Charles the First had scarcely ascended the throne ere he discovered that in his new parliament he was married to a sullen bride: the youthful monarch, with the impatience of a lover, warm with hope and glory, was ungraciously repulsed even in the first favours! The prediction of his father remained, like the handwriting on the wall; but, seated on the throne, Hope was more congenial to youth than Prophecy.
As soon as Charles the First could assemble a parliament, he addressed them with an earnestness, in which the simplicity of words and thoughts strongly contrasted with the oratorical harangues of the late monarch. It cannot be alleged against Charles the First, that he preceded the parliament in the war of words. He courted their affections; and even in this manner of reception, amidst the dignity of the regal office, studiously showed his exterior respect by the marked solemnity of their first meeting. As yet uncrowned, on the day on which he first addressed the Lords and Commons, he wore his crown, and vailed it at the opening, and on the close of his speech; a circumstance to which the parliament had not been accustomed. Another ceremony gave still greater solemnity to the meeting; the king would not enter into business till they had united in prayer. He commanded the doors to be closed, and a bishop to perform the office. The suddenness of this unexpected command disconcerted the catholic lords, of whom the less rigid knelt, and the moderate stood: there was one startled papist who did nothing but cross himself!1
The speech may be found in Rushworth; the friendly tone must be shown here.
I hope that you do remember that you were pleased to employ me to advise my father to break off the treaties (with Spain). I came into this business willingly and freely, like a young man, and consequently rashly; but it was by your interest — your engagement. I pray you to remember, that this being my first action, and begun by your advice and entreaty, what a great dishonour it were to you and me that it should fail for that assistance you are able to give me!
This effusion excited no sympathy in the house. They voted not a seventh part of the expenditure necessary to proceed with a war, into which, as a popular measure, they themselves had forced the king.
At Oxford the king again reminded them that he was engaged in a war “from their desires and advice.” He expresses his disappointment at their insufficient grant, “far short to set forth the navy now preparing.” The speech preserves the same simplicity.
Still no echo of kindness responded in the house. It was, however, asserted, in a vague and quibbling manner, that “though a former parliament did engage the king in a war, yet, (if things were managed by a contrary design, and the treasure misemployed) this parliament is not bound by another parliament:” and they added a cruel mockery, “that the king should help the cause of the Palatinate with his own money!”— this foolish war, which James and Charles had so long borne their reproaches for having avoided as hopeless, but which the puritanic party, as well as others, had continually urged as necessary for the maintenance of the protestant cause in Europe.
Still no supplies! but protestations of duty, and petitions about grievances, which it had been difficult to specify. In their “Declaration” they style his Majesty “Our dear and dread sovereign,” and themselves “his poor Commons:” but they concede no point — they offer no aid! The king was not yet disposed to quarrel, though he had in vain pressed for dispatch of business, lest the season should be lost for the navy; again reminding them, that “it was the first request that he ever made unto them!” On the pretence of the plague at Oxford, Charles prorogued parliament, with a promise to reassemble in the winter.
There were a few whose hearts had still a pulse to vibrate with the distresses of a youthful monarch, perplexed by a war which they themselves had raised. But others, of a more republican complexion, rejected “Necessity, as a dangerous counsellor, which would be always furnishing arguments for supplies. If the king was in danger and necessity, those ought to answer for it who have put both king and kingdom into this peril: and if the state of things would not admit a redress of grievances, there cannot be so much necessity for money.”
The first parliament abandoned the king!
Charles now had no other means to despatch the army and fleet, in a bad season, but by borrowing money on privy seals: these were letters, where the loan exacted was as small as the style was humble. They specified, “that this loan, without inconvenience to any, is only intended for the service of the public. Such private helps for public services which cannot be deferred,” the king premises, had been often resorted to; but this “being the first time that we have required anything in this kind, we require but that sum which few men would deny a friend.” As far as I can discover, the highest sum assessed from great personages was twenty pounds! The king was willing to suffer any mortification, even that of a charitable solicitation, rather than endure the obdurate insults of parliament! All donations were received, from ten pounds to five shillings: this was the mockery of an alms-basket! Yet with contributions and savings so trivial, and exacted with such a warm appeal to their feelings, was the king to send out a fleet with ten thousand men — to take Cadiz!
This expedition, like so many similar attempts from the days of Charles the First to those of the great Lord Chatham, and to our own — concluded in a nullity! Charles, disappointed in this predatory attempt, in despair called his second parliament — as he says, “in the midst of his necessities — and to learn from them how he was to frame his course and counsels.”
The Commons, as duteously as ever, profess that “No king was ever dearer to his people, and that they really intend to assist his majesty in such a way as may make him safe at home and feared abroad”— but it was to be on condition that he would be graciously pleased to accept “the information and advice of parliament in discovering the causes of the great evils, and redress their grievances.” The king accepted this “as a satisfactory answer;” but Charles comprehended their drift —“You specially aim at the Duke of Buckingham; what he hath done to change your minds I wot not.” The style of the king now first betrays angered feelings; the secret cause of the uncomplying conduct of the Commons was hatred of the favourite — but the king saw that they designed to control the executive government, and he could ascribe their antipathy to Buckingham but to the capriciousness of popular favour; for not long ago he had heard Buckingham hailed as “their saviour.” In the zeal and firmness of his affections, Charles always considered that he himself was aimed at in the person of his confidant, his companion, and his minister!
Some of “the bold speakers,” as the heads of the opposition are frequently designated in the manuscript letters, have now risen into notice. Sir John Eliot, Dr. Turner, Sir Dudley Digges, Mr. Clement Coke, poured themselves forth in a vehement, not to say seditious style, with invectives more daring than had ever before thundered in the House of Commons! The king now told them —“I come to show your errors, and, as I may call it, unparliamentary proceedings of parliament.” The lord keeper then assured them, that “when the irregular humours of some particular persons were settled, the king would hear and answer all just grievances; but the king would have them also to know that he was equally jealous to the contempt of his royal rights, which his majesty would not suffer to be violated by any pretended course of parliamentary liberty. The king considered the parliament as his council; but there was a difference between councilling and controlling, and between liberty and the abuse of liberty.” He finished by noticing their extraordinary proceedings in their impeachment of Buckingham. The king, resuming his speech, remarkably reproached the parliament —
Now that you have all things according to your wishes, and that I am so far engaged that you think there is no retreat, now you begin to set the dice, and make your own game. But I pray you be not deceived; it is not a parliamentary way, nor is it a way to deal with a king. Mr. Clement Coke told you, “It was better to be eaten up by a foreign enemy than to be destroyed at home!” Indeed, I think it more honour for a king to be invaded and almost destroyed by a foreign enemy than to be despised by his own subjects.
The king concluded by asserting his privilege to call or to forbid parliaments.
The style of “the bold speakers” appeared at least as early as in April; I trace their spirit in letters of the times, which furnish facts and expressions that do not appear in our printed documents.
Among the earliest of our patriots, and finally the great victim of his exertions, was Sir John Eliot, vice-admiral of Devonshire. He, in a tone which “rolled back to Jove his own bolts,” and startled even the writer, who was himself biassed to the popular party, “made a resolute, I doubt whether a timely, speech.” He adds Eliot asserted that “They came not thither either to do what the king should command them, nor to abstain when he forbade them; they came to continue constant, and to maintain their privileges. They would not give their posterity a cause to curse them for losing their privileges by restraint, which their forefathers had left them.”2
On the 8th of May the impeachment of the duke was opened by Sir Dudley Digges, who compared the duke to a meteor exhaled out of putrid matter. He was followed by Glanville, Selden, and others. On this first day the duke sat out-facing his accusers and out-braving their accusations, which the more highly exasperated the house.3 On the following day the duke was absent, when the epilogue to this mighty piece was elaborately delivered by Sir John Eliot, with a force of declamation and a boldness of personal allusion which have not been surpassed in the invectives of the modern Junius.
Eliot, after expatiating on the favourite’s ambition in procuring and getting into his hands the greatest offices of strength and power in the kingdom, and the means by which he had obtained them, drew a picture of “the inward character of the duke’s mind.” The duke’s plurality of offices reminded him “of a chimerical beast called by the ancients Stellionatus, so blurred, so spotted, so full of foul lines that they knew not what to make of it! In setting up himself he hath set upon the kingdom’s revenues, the fountain of supply, and the nerves of the land. He intercepts, consumes, and exhausts the revenues of the crown; and, by emptying the veins the blood should run in, he hath cast the kingdom into a high consumption.” He descends to criminate the duke’s magnificent tastes; he who had something of a congenial nature; for Eliot was a man of fine literature. “Infinite sums of money, and mass of land exceeding the value of money, contributions in parliament have been heaped upon him; and how have they been employed? Upon costly furniture, sumptuous feasting, and magnificent building, the visible evidence of the express exhausting of the state!”
Eliot eloquently closes —
Your lordships have an idea of the man, what he is in himself, what in his affections! You have seen his power, and some, I fear, have felt it. You have known his practice, and have heard the effects. Being such, what is he in reference to king and state; how compatible or incompatible with either? In reference to the king, he must be styled the canker in his treasure; in reference to the state the moth of all goodness. I can hardly find him a parallel; but none were so like him as Sejanus, who is described by Tacitus, Audax; sui obtegens, in alios criminator; juxta adulatio et superbia. Sejanus’s pride was so excessive, as Tacitus saith, that he neglected all councils, mixed his business and service with the prince, seeming to confound their actions, and was often styled Imperatoris laborum socius. Doth not this man the like? Ask England, Scotland, and Ireland — and they will tell you! How lately and how often hath this man commixed his actions in discourses with actions of the king’s! My lords! I have done — you see the man!
The parallel of the duke with Sejanus electrified the house; and, as we shall see, touched Charles on a convulsive nerve.
The king’s conduct on this speech was the beginning of his troubles, and the first of his more open attempts to crush the popular party. In the House of Lords the king defended the duke, and informed them, “I have thought fit to take order for the punishing some insolent speeches lately spoken.” I find a piece of secret history enclosed in a letter, with a solemn injunction that it might be burnt. “The king this morning complained of Sir John Eliot for comparing the duke to Sejanus, in which he said implicitly he must intend me for Tiberius!” On that day the prologue and the epilogue orators — Sir Dudley Digges, who had opened the impeachment against the duke, and Sir John Eliot, who had closed it — were called out of the house by two messengers, who showed their warrants for committing them to the Tower.4
On this memorable day a philosophical politician might have presciently marked the seed-plots of events, which not many years afterwards were apparent to all men. The passions of kings are often expatiated on; but, in the present anti-monarchical period, the passions of parliaments are not imaginable! The democratic party in our constitution, from the meanest of motives, from their egotism, their vanity, and their audacity, hate kings; they would have an abstract being, a chimerical sovereign on the throne — like a statue, the mere ornament of the place it fills — and insensible, like a statue, to the invectives they would heap on its pedestal!
The commons, with a fierce spirit of reaction for the king’s “punishing some insolent speeches,” at once sent up to the lords for the commitment of the duke!5 But when they learnt the fate of the patriots, they instantaneously broke up! In the afternoon they assembled in Westminster-hall, to interchange their private sentiments on the fate of the two imprisoned members, in sadness and indignation.6
The following day the commons met in their own house. When the speaker reminded them of the usual business, they all cried out, “Sit down! sit down!” They would touch on no business till they were “righted in their liberties!”7 An open committee of the whole house was formed, and no member suffered to quit the house; but either they were at a loss how to commence this solemn conference, or expressed their indignation by a sullen silence. To soothe and subdue “the bold speakers” was the unfortunate attempt of the vice-chamberlain, Sir Dudley Carleton, who had long been one of our foreign ambassadors; and who, having witnessed the despotic governments on the continent, imagined that there was no deficiency of liberty at home. “I find,” said the vice-chamberlain, “by the great silence in this house, that it is a fit time to be heard, if you will grant me the patience.” Alluding to one of the king’s messages, where it was hinted that, if there was “no correspondency between him and the parliament, he should be forced to use new counsels,” “I pray you consider what these new counsels are, and may be: I fear to declare those I conceive!” However, Sir Dudley plainly hinted at them, when he went on observing, that “when monarchs began to know their own strength, and saw the turbulent spirit of their parliaments, they had overthrown them in all Europe, except here only with us.” Our old ambassador drew an amusing picture of the effects of despotic governments, in that of France —“If you knew the subjects in foreign countries as well as myself, to see them look, not like our nation, with store of flesh on their backs, but like so many ghosts and not men, being nothing but skin and bones, with some thin cover to their nakedness, and wearing only wooden shoes on their feet, so that they cannot eat meat, or wear good clothes, but they must pay the king for it; this is a misery beyond expression, and that which we are yet free from!” A long residence abroad had deprived Sir Dudley Carleton of any sympathy with the high tone of freedom, and the proud jealousy of their privileges, which, though yet unascertained, undefined, and still often contested, was breaking forth among the commons of England. It was fated that the celestial spirit of our national freedom should not descend among us in the form of the mystical dove!
Hume observes on this speech, that “these imprudent suggestions rather gave warning than struck terror.” It was evident that the event, which implied “new counsels,” meant what subsequently was practised — the king governing without a parliament! As for “the ghosts who wore wooden shoes,” to which the house was congratulated that they had not yet been reduced, they would infer that it was the more necessary to provide against the possibility of such strange apparitions! Hume truly observes, “The king reaped no further benefit from this attempt than to exasperate the house still further.” Some words, which the duke persisted in asserting had dropped from Digges, were explained away, Digges declaring that they had not been used by him; and it seems probable that he was suffered to eat his words. Eliot was made of “sterner stuff;” he abated not a jot of whatever he had spoken of “that man,” as he affected to call Buckingham.
The commons, whatever might be their patriotism, seem at first to have been chiefly moved by a personal hatred of the favourite;8 and their real charges against him amounted to little more than pretences and aggravations. The king, whose personal affections were always strong, considered his friend innocent; and there was a warm, romantic feature in the character of the youthful monarch, which scorned to sacrifice his faithful companion to his own interests, and to immolate the minister to the clamours of the commons. Subsequently, when the king did this in the memorable case of the guiltless Strafford, it was the only circumstance which weighed on his mind at the hour of his own sacrifice! Sir Robert Cotton told a friend, on the day on which the king went down to the house of lords, and committed the two patriots, that “he had of late been often sent for to the king and duke, and that the king’s affection towards him was very admirable, and no whit lessened. Certainly,” he added, “the king will never yield to the duke’s fall, being a young man, resolute, magnanimous, and tenderly and firmly affectionate where he takes.”9 This authentic character of Charles the First, by that intelligent and learned man, to whom the nation owes the treasures of its antiquities, is remarkable. Sir Robert Cotton, though holding no rank at court, and in no respect of the duke’s party, was often consulted by the king, and much in his secrets. How the king valued the judgment of this acute and able adviser, acting on it in direct contradiction and to the mortification of the favourite, I shall probably have occasion to show.
The commons did not decline in the subtle spirit with which they had begun; they covertly aimed at once to subjugate the sovereign, and to expel the minister! A remonstrance was prepared against the levying of tonnage and poundage, which constituted half of the crown revenues; and a petition, “equivalent to a command,” for removing Buckingham from his majesty’s person and councils.10 The remonstrance is wrought up with a high spirit of invective against “the unbridled ambition of the duke,” whom they class “among those vipers and pests to their king and commonwealth, as so expressly styled by your most royal father.” They request that “he would be pleased to remove this person from access to his sacred presence, and that he would not balance this one man with all these things, and with the affairs of the Christian world.”
The king hastily dissolved this second parliament; and when the lords petitioned for its continuance, he warmly and angrily exclaimed, “Not a moment longer!” It was dissolved in June, 1626.
The patriots abandoned their sovereign to his fate, and retreated home sullen, indignant, and ready to conspire among themselves for the assumption of their disputed or their defrauded liberties. They industriously dispersed their remonstrance, and the king replied by a declaration; but an attack is always more vigorous than a defence. The declaration is spiritless, and evidently composed under suppressed feelings, which, perhaps, knew not how to shape themselves. The “Remonstrance” was commanded everywhere to be burnt; and the effect which it produced on the people we shall shortly witness.
The king was left amidst the most pressing exigencies. At the dissolution of the first parliament he had been compelled to practise a humiliating economy. Hume has alluded to the numerous wants of the young monarch; but he certainly was not acquainted with the king’s extreme necessities. His coronation seemed rather a private than a public ceremony. To save the expenses of the procession from the Tower through the city to Whitehall, that customary pomp was omitted; and the reason alleged was “to save the charge for more noble undertakings!” that is, for means to carry on the Spanish war without supplies! But now the most extraordinary changes appeared at court. The king mortgaged his lands in Cornwall to the aldermen and companies of London. A rumour spread that the small pension list must be revoked; and the royal distress was carried so far, that all the tables at court were laid down, and the courtiers put on board-wages! I have seen a letter which gives an account of “the funeral supper at Whitehall, whereat twenty-three tables were buried, being from henceforth converted to board-wages;” and there I learn, that “since this dissolving of house-keeping, his majesty is but slenderly attended.” Another writer, who describes himself to be only a looker-on, regrets, that while the men of the law spent ten thousand pounds on a single masque, they did not rather make the king rich; and adds, “I see a rich commonwealth, a rich people, and the crown poor!” This strange poverty of the court of Charles seems to have escaped the notice of our general historians. Charles was now to victual his fleet with the savings of the board-wages! for this “surplusage” was taken into account!
The fatal descent on the Isle of Rhé sent home Buckingham discomfited, and spread dismay through the nation. The best blood had been shed from the wanton bravery of an unskilful and romantic commander, who, forced to retreat, would march, but not fly, and was the very last man to quit the ground which he could not occupy. In the eagerness of his hopes, Buckingham had once dropped, as I learn, that “before Midsummer he should be more honoured and beloved by the commons than ever was the Earl of Essex:” and thus he rocked his own and his master’s imagination in cradling fancies. This volatile hero, who had felt the capriciousness of popularity, thought that it was as easily regained as it was easily lost; and that a chivalric adventure would return to him that favour which at this moment might have been denied to all the wisdom, the policy, and the arts of an experienced statesman.
The king was now involved in more intricate and desperate measures; and the nation was thrown into a state of agitation, of which the page of popular history yields but a faint impression.
The spirit of insurrection was stalking forth in the metropolis and in the country. The scenes which I am about to describe occurred at the close of 1626: an inattentive reader might easily mistake them for the revolutionary scenes of 1640. It was an unarmed rebellion.
An army and a navy had returned unpaid, and sore with defeat. The town was scoured by mutinous seamen and soldiers, roving even into the palace of the sovereign. Soldiers without pay form a society without laws. A band of captains rushed into the duke’s apartment as he sat at dinner; and when reminded by the duke of a late proclamation, forbidding all soldiers coming to court in troops, on pain of hanging, they replied, that “Whole companies were ready to be hanged with them! that the king might do as he pleased with their lives; for that their reputation was lost, and their honour forfeited, for want of their salary to pay their debts.” When a petition was once presented, and it was inquired who was the composer of it, a vast body tremendously shouted “All! all!” A multitude, composed of seamen, met at Tower-hill, and set a lad on a scaffold, who, with an “O yes!” proclaimed that King Charles had promised their pay, or the duke had been on the scaffold himself! These, at least, were grievances more apparent to the sovereign than those vague ones so perpetually repeated by his unfaithful commons. But what remained to be done? It was only a choice of difficulties between the disorder and the remedy. At the moment, the duke got up what he called “The council of the sea;” was punctual at its first meeting, and appointed three days in a week to sit — but broke his appointment the second day — they found him always otherwise engaged; and “the council of the sea” turned out to be one of those shadowy expedients which only lasts while it acts on the imagination. It is said that thirty thousand pounds would have quieted these disorganised troops; but the exchequer could not supply so mean a sum. Buckingham in despair, and profuse of life, was planning a fresh expedition for the siege of Rochelle; a new army was required. He swore, “if there was money in the kingdom it should be had!”
Now began that series of contrivances, and artifices, and persecutions to levy money. Forced loans, or pretended free-gifts, kindled a resisting spirit. It was urged by the court party, that the sums required were, in fact, much less in amount than the usual grants of subsidies; but the cry, in return for “a subsidy,” was always “a Parliament!” Many were heavily fined for declaring that “they knew no law, besides that of Parliament, to compel men to give away their own goods.” The king ordered that those who would not subscribe to the loans should not be forced; but it seems there were orders in council to specify those householders’ names who would not subscribe; and it further appears that those who would not pay in purse should in person. Those who were pressed were sent to the dépôt; but either the soldiers would not receive these good citizens, or they found easy means to return. Every mode which the government invented seems to have been easily frustrated, either by the intrepidity of the parties themselves, or by that general understanding which enabled the people to play into one another’s hands. When the common council had consented that an imposition should be laid, the citizens called the Guildhall the Yield-all! And whenever they levied a distress, in consequence of a refusal to pay it, nothing was to be found but “Old ends, such as nobody cared for.” Or if a severer officer seized on commodities, it was in vain to offer pennyworths where no customer was to be had. A wealthy merchant, who had formerly been a cheesemonger, was summoned to appear before the privy council, and required to lend the king two hundred pounds, or else to go himself to the army, and serve it with cheese. It was not supposed that a merchant, so aged and wealthy, would submit to resume his former mean trade; but the old man, in the spirit of the times, preferred the hard alternative, and balked the new project of finance, by shipping himself with his cheese. At Hicks’s Hall the duke and the Earl of Dorset sat to receive the loans; but the duke threatened, and the earl affected to treat with levity, men who came before them with all the suppressed feelings of popular indignation. The Earl of Dorset asking a fellow who pleaded inability to lend money, of what trade he was, and being answered “a tailor,” said: “Put down your name for such a sum; one snip will make amends for all!” The tailor quoted scripture abundantly, and shook the bench with laughter or with rage by his anathemas, till he was put fast into a messenger’s hands. This was one Ball, renowned through the parish of St. Clement’s; and not only a tailor, but a prophet. Twenty years after, tailors and prophets employed messengers themselves!11
These are instances drawn from the inferior classes of society; but the same spirit actuated the country gentlemen: one instance represents many. George Gatesby, of Northamptonshire, being committed to prison as a loan-recusant, alleged, among other reasons for his non-compliance, that “he considered that this loan might become a precedent; and that every precedent, he was told by the lord president, was a flower of the prerogative.” The lord president told him that “he lied!” Gatesby shook his head, observing, “I come not here to contend with your lordship, but to suffer!” Lord Suffolk then interposing, entreated the lord president would not too far urge his kinsman, Mr. Gatesby. This country gentleman waived any kindness he might owe to kindred, declaring, that “he would remain master of his own purse.” The prisons were crowded with these loan-recusants, as well as with those who had sinned in the freedom of their opinions. The country gentlemen insured their popularity by their committals; and many stout resistors of the loans were returned in the following parliament against their own wishes.12 The friends of these knights and country gentlemen flocked to their prisons; and when they petitioned for more liberty and air during the summer, it was policy to grant their request. But it was also policy that they should not reside in their own counties: this relaxation was only granted to those who, living in the south, consented to sojourn in the north; while the dwellers in the north were to be lodged in the south!
In the country the disturbed scenes assumed even a more alarming appearance than in London. They not only would not provide money, but when money was offered by government, the men refused to serve; a conscription was not then known: and it became a question, long debated in the privy council, whether those who would not accept press-money should not be tried by martial law. I preserve in the note a curious piece of secret information.13 The great novelty and symptom of the times was the scattering of letters. Sealed letters, addressed to the leading men of the country, were found hanging on bushes; anonymous letters were dropped in shops and streets, which gave notice that the day was fast approaching when “Such a work was to be wrought in England as never was the like, which will be for our good.” Addresses multiplied “To all true-hearted Englishmen!” A groom detected in spreading such seditious papers, and brought into the inexorable Star-chamber, was fined three thousand pounds! The leniency of the punishment was rather regretted by two bishops; if it was ever carried into execution, the unhappy man must have remained a groom who never after crossed a horse!
There is one difficult duty of an historian, which is too often passed over by the party-writer; it is to pause whenever he feels himself warming with the passions of the multitude, or becoming the blind apologist of arbitrary power. An historian must transform himself into the characters which he is representing, and throw himself back into the times which he is opening; possessing himself of their feelings and tracing their actions, he may then at least hope to discover truths which may equally interest the honourable men of all parties.
This reflection has occurred from the very difficulty into which I am now brought. Shall we at once condemn the king for these arbitrary measures? It is, however, very possible that they were never in his contemplation! Involved in inextricable difficulties, according to his feelings, he was betrayed by parliament; and he scorned to barter their favour by that vulgar traffic of treachery — the immolation of the single victim who had long attached his personal affections; a man at least as much envied as hated! that hard lesson had not yet been inculcated on a British sovereign, that his bosom must be a blank for all private affection; and had that lesson been taught, the character of Charles was destitute of all aptitude for it. To reign without a refractory parliament, and to find among the people themselves subjects more loyal than their representatives, was an experiment — and a fatal one! Under Charles, the liberty of the subject, when the necessities of the state pressed on the sovereign, was matter of discussion, disputed as often as assumed; the divines were proclaiming as rebellious those who refused their contributions to aid the government;14 and the law-sages alleged precedents for raising supplies in the manner which Charles had adopted. Selden, whose learned industry was as vast as the amplitude of his mind, had to seek for the freedom of the subject in the dust of the records of the Tower — and the omnipotence of parliaments, if any human assembly may be invested with such supernatural greatness, had not yet awakened the hoar antiquity of popular liberty.
A general spirit of insurrection, rather than insurrection itself, had suddenly raised some strange appearances through the kingdom. “The remonstrance” of parliament had unquestionably quickened the feelings of the people; but yet the lovers of peace and the reverencers of royalty were not a few; money and men were procured to send out the army and the fleet. More concealed causes may be suspected to have been at work. Many of the heads of the opposition were pursuing some secret machinations; about this time I find many mysterious stories — indications of secret societies — and other evidences of the intrigues of the popular party.
Little matters, sometimes more important than they appear, are suitable to our minute sort of history. In November, 1626, a rumour spread that the king was to be visited by an ambassador from “the President of the Society of the Rosycross.” He was indeed an heteroclite ambassador, for he is described “as a youth with never a hair on his face;” in fact, a child who was to conceal the mysterious personage which he was for a moment to represent. He appointed Sunday afternoon to come to court, attended by thirteen coaches. He was to proffer to his majesty, provided the king accepted his advice, three millions to put into his coffers; and by his secret councils he was to unfold matters of moment and secrecy. A Latin letter was delivered to “David Ramsey of the clock,” to hand over to the king: a copy of it has been preserved in a letter of the times; but it is so unmeaning, that it could have had no effect on the king, who, however, declared that he would not admit him to an audience, and that if he could tell where “the President of the Rosycross” was to be found, unless he made good his offer, he would hang him at the court-gates. This served the town and country for talk till the appointed Sunday had passed over, and no ambassador was visible! Some considered this as the plotting of crazy brains, but others imagined it to be an attempt to speak with the king in private, on matters respecting the duke.
There was also discovered, by letters received from Rome, “a whole parliament of Jesuits sitting” in “a fair-hanged vault” in Clerkenwell.15 Sir John Cooke would have alarmed the parliament, that on St. Joseph’s day these were to have occupied their places; ministers are supposed sometimes to have conspirators for “the nonce;” Sir Dudley Digges, in the opposition, as usual, would not believe in any such political necromancers; but such a party were discovered; Cooke would have insinuated that the French ambassador had persuaded Louis that the divisions between Charles and his people had been raised by his ingenuity, and was rewarded for the intelligence; this is not unlikely. After all, the parliament of Jesuits might have been a secret college of the order; for, among other things seized on, was a considerable library.
When the parliament was sitting, a sealed letter was thrown under the door, with this superscription, Cursed be the man that finds this letter, and delivers it not to the House of Commons. The Serjeant-at-Arms delivered it to the Speaker, who would not open it till the house had chosen a committee of twelve members to inform them whether it was fit to be read. Sir Edward Coke, after having read two or three lines, stopped, and according to my authority, “durst read no further, but immediately sealing it, the committee thought fit to send it to the king, who they say, on reading it through, cast it into the fire, and sent the House of Commons thanks for their wisdom in not publishing it, and for the discretion of the committee in so far tendering his honour, as not to read it out, when they once perceived that it touched his majesty.”16
Others, besides the freedom of speech, introduced another form, “A speech without doors,” which was distributed to the members of the house. It is in all respects a remarkable one, occupying ten folio pages in the first volume of Rushworth.
Some in office appear to have employed extraordinary proceedings of a similar nature. An intercepted letter written from the archduchess to the King of Spain, was delivered by Sir H. Martyn at the council-board on New Year’s-day, who found in it some papers relating to the navy. The duke immediately said he would show it to the king; and, accompanied by several lords, went into his majesty’s closet. The letter was written in French; it advised the Spanish court to make a sudden war with England, for several reasons; his majesty’s want of skill to govern of himself; the weakness of his council in not daring to acquaint him with the truth; want of money; disunion of the subjects’ hearts from their prince, &c. The king only observed, that the writer forgot that the archduchess writes to the King of Spain in Spanish, and sends her letters overland.
I have to add an important fact. I find certain evidence that the heads of the opposition were busily active in thwarting the measures of government. Dr. Samuel Turner, the member for Shrewsbury, called on Sir John Cage, and desired to speak to him privately; his errand was to entreat him to resist the loan, and to use his power with others to obtain this purpose. The following information comes from Sir John Cage himself. Dr. Turner “being desired to stay, he would not a minute, but instantly took horse, saying he had more places to go to, and time pressed; that there was a company of them had divided themselves into all parts, every one having had a quarter assigned to him, to perform this service for the commonwealth.” This was written in November, 1626. This unquestionably amounts to a secret confederacy watching out of parliament as well as in; and those strange appearances of popular defection exhibited in the country, which I have described, were in great part the consequences of the machinations and active intrigues of the popular party.17
The king was not disposed to try a third parliament. The favourite, perhaps to regain that popular favour which his greatness had lost him, is said in private letters to have been twice on his knees to intercede for a new one. The elections, however, foreboded no good; and a letter-writer connected with the court, in giving an account of them, prophetically declared, “we are without question undone!”
The king’s speech opens with the spirit which he himself felt, but which he could not communicate:—
“The times are for action: wherefore, for example’s sake, I mean not to spend much time in words! If you, which God forbid, should not do your duties in contributing what the state at this time needs, I must, in discharge of my conscience, use those other means which God hath put into my hands, to save that, which the follies of some particular men may otherwise hazard to lose.” He added, with the loftiness of ideal majesty —“Take not this as a threatening, for I scorn to threaten any but my equals; but as an admonition from him, that, both out of nature and duty, hath most care of your preservations and prosperities:” and in a more friendly tone he requested them “To remember a thing to the end that we may forget it. You may imagine that I come here with a doubt of success, remembering the distractions of the last meeting; but I assure you that I shall very easily forget and forgive what is past.”
A most crowded house now met, composed of the wealthiest men; for a lord, who probably considered that property was the true balance of power, estimated that they were able to buy the upper-house, his majesty only excepted! The aristocracy of wealth had already begun to be felt. Some ill omens of the parliament appeared. Sir Robert Philips moved for a general fast: “we had one for the plague which it pleased God to deliver us from, and we have now so many plagues of the commonwealth about his majesty’s person, that we have need of such, an act of humiliation.” Sir Edward Coke held it most necessary, “because there are, I fear, some devils that will not be cast out but by fasting and prayer.”
Many of the speeches in “this great council of the kingdom” are as admirable pieces of composition as exist in the language. Even the court-party were moderate, extenuating rather than pleading for the late necessities. But the evil spirit of party, however veiled, was walking amidst them all: a letter-writer represents the natural state of feelings: “Some of the parliament talk desperately; while others, of as high a course to enforce money if they yield not!” Such is the perpetual action and reaction of public opinion; when one side will give too little, the other is sure to desire too much!
The parliament granted subsidies. — Sir John Cooke having brought up the report to the king, Charles expressed great satisfaction, and declared that he felt now more happy than any of his predecessors. Inquiring of Sir John by how many voices he had carried it? Cooke replied, “But by one!”— at which his majesty seemed appalled, and asked how many were against him? Cooke answered, “None! the unanimity of the House made all but one voice!” at which his majesty wept!18 If Charles shed tears, or as Cooke himself expresses it, in his report to the House, “was much affected,” the emotion was profound: for on all sudden emergencies Charles displayed an almost unparalleled command over the exterior violence of his feelings.
The favourite himself sympathised with the tender joy of his royal master; and, before the king, voluntarily offered himself as a peace-sacrifice. In his speech at the council-table, he entreats the king that he, who had the honour to be his majesty’s favourite, might now give up that title to them. — A warm genuine feeling probably prompted these words:—
“To open my heart, please to pardon me a word more; I must confess I have long lived in pain, sleep hath given me no rest, favours and fortune no content; such have been my secret sorrows, to be thought the man of separation, and that divided the king from his people, and them from him; but I hope it shall appear they were some mistaken minds that would have made me the evil spirit that walketh between a good master and a loyal people.”19
Buckingham added, that for the good of his country he was willing to sacrifice his honours; and since his plurality of offices had been so strongly excepted against,20 that he was content to give up the Master of the Horse to Marquess Hamilton, and the Warden of the Cinque Ports to the Earl of Carlisle; and was willing that the parliament should appoint another admiral for all services at sea.
It is as certain as human evidence can authenticate, that on the king’s side all was grateful affection; and that on Buckingham’s there was a most earnest desire to win the favours of parliament; and what are stronger than all human evidence, those unerring principles in human nature itself, which are the secret springs of the heart, were working in the breasts of the king and his minister; for neither were tyrannical. The king undoubtedly sighed to meet parliament with the love which he had at first professed; he declared that “he should now rejoice to meet with his people often.” Charles had no innate tyranny in his constitutional character; and Buckingham at times was susceptible of misery amidst his greatness, as I have elsewhere shown.21 It could not have been imagined that the luckless favourite, on the present occasion, should have served as a pretext to set again in motion the chaos of evil! Can any candid mind suppose that the king or the duke meditated the slightest insult on the patriotic party, or would in the least have disturbed the apparent reconciliation! Yet it so happened! Secretary Cooke, at the close of his report of the king’s acceptance of the subsidies, mentioned that the duke had fervently beseeched the king to grant the house all their desires! Perhaps the mention of the duke’s name was designed to ingratiate him into their toleration.
Sir John Eliot caught fire at the very name of the duke, and vehemently checked the secretary for having dared to introduce it; declaring, that “they knew of no other distinction but of king and subjects. By intermingling a subject’s speech with the king’s message, he seemed to derogate from the honour and majesty of a king. Nor would it become any subject to bear himself in such a fashion, as if no grace ought to descend from the king to the people, nor any loyalty ascend from the people to the king, but through him only.”
This speech was received by many with acclamations; some cried out, “Well spoken, Sir John Eliot!”22 It marks the heated state of the political atmosphere, where even the lightest coruscation of a hated name made it burst into flames!
I have often suspected that Sir John Eliot, by his vehement personality, must have borne a personal antipathy to Buckingham. I have never been enabled to ascertain the fact; but I find that he has left in manuscript a collection of satires, or Verses, being chiefly invectives against the Duke of Buckingham, to whom he bore a bitter and most inveterate enmity. Could we sometimes discover the motives of those who first head political revolutions, we should find how greatly personal hatreds have actuated them in deeds which have come down to us in the form of patriotism, and how often the revolutionary spirit disguises its private passions by its public conduct.23
But the supplies, which had raised tears from the fervent gratitude of Charles, though voted, were yet withheld. They resolved that grievances and supplies go hand in hand. The commons entered deeply into constitutional points of the highest magnitude. The curious erudition of Selden and Coke was combined with the ardour of patriots who merit no inferior celebrity, though not having consecrated their names by their laborious literature, we only discover them in the obscure annals of parliament. To our history, composed by writers of different principles, I refer the reader for the arguments of lawyers, and the spirit of the commons. My secret history is only its supplement.
The king’s prerogative, and the subject’s liberty, were points hard to distinguish, and were established but by contest. Sometimes the king imagined that “the house pressed not upon the abuses of power, but only upon power itself.” Sometimes the commons doubted whether they had anything of their own to give; while their property and their persons seemed equally insecure. Despotism seemed to stand on one side, and Faction on the other — Liberty trembled!
The conference of the commons before the lords, on the freedom and person of the subject, was admirably conducted by Selden and by Coke. When the king’s attorney affected to slight the learned arguments and precedents, pretending to consider them as mutilated out of the records, and as proving rather against the commons than for them, Sir Edward Coke rose, affirming to the house, upon his skill in the law, that “it lay not under Mr. Attorney’s cap to answer any one of their arguments.” Selden declared that he had written out all the records from the Tower, the Exchequer, and the King’s Bench, with his own hand; and “would engage his head, Mr. Attorney should not find in all these archives a single precedent omitted.” Mr. Littleton said, that he had examined every one syllabatim, and whoever said they were mutilated spoke false! Of so ambiguous and delicate a nature was then the liberty of the subject, that it seems they considered it to depend on precedents!
A startling message, on the 12th of April, was sent by the king for despatch of business. The house, struck with astonishment, desired to have it repeated. They remained sad and silent. No one cared to open the debate. A whimsical politician, Sir Francis Nethersole,24 suddenly started up, entreating leave to tell his last night’s dream. Some laughing at him, he observed, that “kingdoms had been saved by dreams!” Allowed to proceed, he said, “he saw two good pastures; a flock of sheep was in the one, and a bell-wether alone in the other; a great ditch was between them, and a narrow bridge over the ditch.”
He was interrupted by the Speaker, who told him that it stood not with the gravity of the house to listen to dreams; but the house was inclined to hear him out.
“The sheep would sometimes go over to the bell-wether, or the bell-wether to the sheep. Once both met on the narrow bridge, and the question was who should go back, since both could not go on without danger. One sheep gave counsel that the sheep on the bridge should lie on their bellies, and let the bell-wether go over their backs. The application of this dilemma he left to the house.”25 It must be confessed that the bearing of the point was more ambiguous than some of the important ones that formed the matters of their debates. Davus sum, non Œdipus! It is probable that this fantastical politician did not vote with the opposition; for Eliot, Wentworth, and Coke, protested against the interpretation of dreams in the house!
When the attorney-general moved that the liberties of the subject might be moderated, to reconcile the differences between themselves and the sovereign, Sir Edward Coke observed, that “the true mother would never consent to the dividing of her child.” On this, Buckingham swore that Coke intimated that the king, his master, was the prostitute of the state. Coke protested against the misinterpretation. The dream of Nethersole, and the metaphor of Coke, were alike dangerous in parliamentary discussion.
In a manuscript letter it is said that the House of Commons sat four days without speaking or doing anything. On the first of May, Secretary Cooke delivered a message, asking whether they would rely upon the king’s word? This question was followed by a long silence. Several speeches are reported in the letters of the times, which are not in Rushworth. Sir Nathaniel Rich observed that, “confident as he was of the royal word, what did any indefinite word ascertain?” Pym said, “We have his majesty’s coronation oath to maintain the laws of England; what need we then take his word?” He proposed to move “Whether we should take the king’s word or no.” This was resisted by Secretary Cooke; “What would they say in foreign parts, if the people of England would not trust their king?” He desired the house to call Pym to order; on which Pym replied, “Truly, Mr. Speaker, I am just of the same opinion I was; viz., that the king’s oath was as powerful as his word.” Sir John Eliot moved that it be put to the question, “because they that would have it, do urge us to that point.” Sir Edward Coke on this occasion made a memorable speech, of which the following passage is not given in Rushworth:—
“We sit now in parliament, and therefore must take his majesty’s word no otherwise than in a parliamentary way; that is, of a matter agreed on by both houses — his majesty sitting on his throne in his robes, with his crown on his head, and sceptre in his hand, and in full parliament; and his royal assent being entered upon record, in perpetuam rei memoriam. This was the royal word of a king in parliament, and not a word delivered in a chamber, and out of the mouth of a secretary at the second hand; therefore I motion, that the House of Commons, more majorum, should draw up a petition, de droict, to his majesty; which, being confirmed by both houses, and assented unto by his majesty, will be as firm an act as any. Not that I distrust the king, but that I cannot take his trust but in a parliamentary way.”26
In this speech of Sir Edward Coke we find the first mention, in the legal style, of the ever-memorable “Petition of Right,” which two days after was finished. The reader must pursue its history among the writers of opposite parties.
On Tuesday, June 5, a royal message announced that on the 11th the present sessions would close. This utterly disconcerted the commons. Religious men considered it as a judicial visitation for the sins of the people; others raged with suppressed feelings; they counted up all the disasters which had of late occurred, all which were charged to one man: they knew not, at a moment so urgent, when all their liberties seemed at stake, whether the commons should fly to the lords, or to the king. Sir John Eliot said, that as they intended to furnish his majesty with money, it was proper that he should give them time to supply him with counsel: he was renewing his old attacks on the duke, when he was suddenly interrupted by the Speaker, who, starting from the chair, declared that he was commanded not to suffer him to proceed; Eliot sat down in sullen silence. On Wednesday, Sir Edward Coke broke the ice of debate. “That man,” said he of the duke, “is the grievance of grievances! As for going to the lords,” he added, “that is not via regia; our liberties are impeached — it is our concern!”
On Thursday, the vehement cry of Coke against Buckingham was followed up; as, says a letter-writer, when one good hound recovers the scent, the rest come in with a full cry.27 A sudden message from the king absolutely forbade them to asperse any of his majesty’s ministers, otherwise his majesty would instantly dissolve them.
This fell like a thunderbolt; it struck terror and alarm; and at the instant the House of Commons was changed into a scene of tragical melancholy! All the opposite passions of human nature — all the national evils which were one day to burst on the country seemed, on a sudden, concentrated in this single spot! Some were seen weeping, some were expostulating, and some, in awful prophecy, were contemplating the future ruin of the kingdom; while others, of more ardent daring, were reproaching the timid, quieting the terrified, and infusing resolution into the despairing. Many attempted to speak, but were so strongly affected that their very utterance failed them. The venerable Coke, overcome by his feelings when he rose to speak, found his learned eloquence falter on his tongue; he sat down, and tears were seen on his aged cheeks. The name of the public enemy of the kingdom was repeated, till the Speaker, with tears covering his face, declared he could no longer witness such a spectacle of woe in the commons of England, and requested leave of absence for half an hour. The speaker hastened to the king to inform him of the state of the house. They were preparing a vote against the duke, for being an arch-traitor and arch-enemy to king and kingdom, and were busied on their “Remonstrance,” when the Speaker, on his return, after an absence of two hours, delivered his majesty’s message, that they should adjourn till the next day.
This was an awful interval of time; many trembled for the issue of the next morning: one letter-writer calls it “that black and doleful Thursday!” and another, writing before the house met, observes, “What we shall expect this morning, God of heaven knows; we shall meet timely.”28
Charles probably had been greatly affected by the report of the Speaker, on the extraordinary state into which the whole house had been thrown; for on Friday the royal message imported that the king had never any intention of “barring them from their right, but only to avoid scandal, that his ministers should not be accused for their counsel to him; and still he hoped that all Christendom might notice a sweet parting between him and his people.” This message quieted the house, but did not suspend their preparations for a “Remonstrance,” which they had begun on the day they were threatened with a dissolution.
On Saturday, while they were still occupied on the “Remonstrance,” unexpectedly, at four o’clock, the king came to parliament, and the commons were called up. Charles spontaneously came to reconcile himself to parliament. The king now gave his second answer to the “Petition of Right.” He said —“My maxim is, that the people’s liberties strengthen the king’s prerogative; and the king’s prerogative is to defend the people’s liberties. Read your petition, and you shall have an answer that I am sure will please you.”29 They desired to have the ancient form of their ancestors, “Soit droit fait come il est desyré,” and not as the king had before given it, with any observation on it. Charles now granted this; declaring that his second answer to the petition in nowise differed from his first; “but you now see how ready I have shown myself to satisfy your demands; I have done my part; wherefore, if this parliament have not a happy conclusion, the sin is yours — I am free from it!”
Popular gratitude is at least as vociferous as it is sudden. Both houses returned the king acclamations of joy; everyone seemed to exult at the happy change which a few days had effected in the fate of the kingdom. Everywhere the bells rung, bonfires were kindled, an universal holiday was kept through the town, and spread to the country: but an ominous circumstance has been registered by a letter-writer; the common people, who had caught the contagious happiness, imagined that all this public joy was occasioned by the king’s consenting to commit the duke to the Tower!
Charles has been censured, even by Hume, for his “evasions and delays” in granting his assent to the “Petition of Right;” but now, either the parliament had conquered the royal unwillingness, or the king was zealously inclined on reconciliation. Yet the joy of the commons did not outlast the bonfires in the streets; they resumed their debates as if they had never before touched on the subjects: they did not account for the feelings of the man whom they addressed as the sovereign. They sent up a “Remonstrance” against the duke,30 and introduced his mother into it, as a patroness of popery. Charles declared, that after having granted the famous “Petition,” he had not expected such a return as this “Remonstrance.” “How acceptable it is,” he afterwards said, “every man may judge; no wise man can justify it.” After the reading of the Remonstrance, the duke fell on his knees, desiring to answer for himself; but Charles no way relaxed in showing his personal favour.31
The duke was often charged with actions and with expressions of which, unquestionably, he was not always guilty; and we can more fairly decide on some points relating to Charles and the favourite, for we have a clearer notion of them than his contemporaries. The active spirits in the commons were resolved to hunt down the game to the death: for they now struck at, as the king calls it, “one of the chief maintenances of my crown,” in tonnage and poundage, the levying of which, they now declared, was a violation of the liberties of the people. This subject again involved legal discussions, and another “Remonstrance.” They were in the act of reading it, when the king suddenly came down to the house, sent for the Speaker, and prorogued the parliament. “I am forced to end this session,” said Charles, “some few hours before I meant, being not willing to receive any more Remonstrances, to which I must give a harsh answer.” There was at least as much of sorrow as of anger in this closing speech.
Buckingham once more was to offer his life for the honour of his master — and to court popularity! It is well known with what exterior fortitude Charles received the news of the duke’s assassination; this imperturbable majesty of his mind — insensibility it was not — never deserted him on many similar occasions. There was no indecision — no feebleness in his conduct; and that extraordinary event was not suffered to delay the expedition. The king’s personal industry astonished all the men in office. One writes that the king had done more in six weeks than in the duke’s time had been done in six months. The death of Buckingham caused no change; the king left every man to his own charge, but took the general direction into his own hands.32 In private, Charles deeply mourned the loss of Buckingham; he gave no encouragement to his enemies: the king called him “his martyr,” and declared “the world was greatly mistaken in him; for it was thought that the favourite had ruled his majesty, but it was far otherwise; for that the duke had been to him a faithful and an obedient servant.”33 Such were the feelings and ideas of the unfortunate Charles the First, which it is necessary to become acquainted with to judge of; few have possessed the leisure or the disposition to perform this historical duty, involved as it is in the history of our passions. If ever the man shall be viewed, as well as the monarch, the private history of Charles the First will form one of the most pathetic of biographies.34
All the foreign expeditions of Charles the First were alike disastrous: the vast genius of Richelieu, at its meridian, had paled our ineffectual star! The dreadful surrender of Rochelle had sent back our army and navy baffled and disgraced; and Buckingham had timely perished, to save one more reproach, one more political crime, attached to his name. Such failures did not improve the temper of the times; but the most brilliant victory would not have changed the fate of Charles, nor allayed the fiery spirits in the commons, who, as Charles said, “not satisfied in hearing complainers, had erected themselves into inquisitors after complaints.”
Parliament met. The king’s speech was conciliatory. He acknowledged that the exaction of the duties of the customs was not a right which he derived from his hereditary prerogative, but one which he enjoyed as the gift of his people. These duties as yet had not indeed been formally confirmed by parliament, but they had never been refused to the sovereign. The king closed with a fervent ejaculation that the session, begun with confidence, might end with a mutual good understanding.35
The shade of Buckingham was no longer cast between Charles the First and the commons. And yet we find that “their dread and dear sovereign” was not allowed any repose on the throne.
A new demon of national discord, Religion, in a metaphysical garb, reared its distracted head. This evil spirit had been raised by the conduct of the court divines, whose political sermons, with their attempts to return to the more solemn ceremonies of the Romish church, alarmed some tender consciences; it served as a masked battery for the patriotic party to change their ground at will, without slackening their fire. When the king urged for the duties of his customs, he found that he was addressing a committee sitting for religion. Sir John Eliot threw out a singular expression. Alluding to some of the bishops, whom he called “masters of ceremonies,” he confessed that some ceremonies were commendable, such as “that we should stand up at the repetition of the creed, to testify the resolution of our hearts to defend the religion we profess, and in some churches they did not only stand upright, but with their swords drawn.” His speech was a spark that fell into a well-laid train; scarcely can we conceive the enthusiastic temper of the House of Commons at that moment, when, after some debate, they entered into a vow to preserve “the articles of religion established by parliament in the thirteenth year of our late Queen Elizabeth!” and this vow was immediately followed up by a petition to the king for a fast for the increasing miseries of the reformed churches abroad. Parliaments are liable to have their passions! Some of these enthusiasts were struck by a panic, not perhaps warranted by the danger, of “Jesuits and Armenians.” The king answered them in good-humour; observing, however, on the state of the reformed abroad; “that fighting would do them more good than fasting.” He granted them their fast, but they would now grant no return; for now they presented “a Declaration” to the king, that tonnage and poundage must give precedency to religion! The king’s answer still betrays no ill temper. He confessed that he did not think that “religion was in so much danger as they affirmed.” He reminds them of tonnage and poundage; “I do not so much desire it out of greediness of the thing, as out of a desire to put an end to those questions that arise between me and some of my subjects.”
Never had the king been more moderate in his claims, or more tender in his style; and never had the commons been more fierce, and never, in truth, so utterly inexorable! Often kings are tyrannical, and sometimes are parliaments! A body corporate, with the infection of passion, may perform acts of injustice equally with the individual who abuses the power with which he is invested. It was insisted that Charles should give up the receivers of the customs, who were denounced as capital enemies to the king and kingdom; while those who submitted to the duties were declared guilty as accessories. When Sir John Eliot was pouring forth invectives against some courtiers — however they may have merited the blast of his eloquence — he was sometimes interrupted and sometimes cheered, for the stinging personalities. The timid Speaker, refusing to put the question, suffered a severe reprimand from Selden: “If you will not put it, we must sit still, and thus we shall never be able to do anything!” The house adjourned in great heat; the dark prognostic of their next meeting, which Sir Symonds D’Ewes has remarked in his Diary as “the most gloomy, sad, and dismal day for England that happened for five hundred years!”
On this fatal day,36 the Speaker still refusing to put the question, and announcing the king’s command for an adjournment, Sir John Eliot stood up! The Speaker attempted to leave the chair, but two members, who had placed themselves on each side, forcibly kept him down — Eliot, who had prepared “a short declaration,” flung down a paper on the floor, crying out that it might be read! His party vociferated for the reading — others that it should not. A sudden tumult broke out; Coriton, a fervent patriot, struck another member, and many laid their hands on their swords.37 “Shall we,” said one, “be sent home as we were last sessions, turned off like scattered sheep?” The weeping, trembling Speaker, still persisting in what he held to be his duty, was dragged to and fro by opposite parties; but neither he nor the clerk would read the paper, though the Speaker was bitterly reproached by his kinsman, Sir Peter Hayman, “as the disgrace of his country, and a blot to a noble family.” Eliot, finding the house so strongly divided, undauntedly snatching up the paper, said, “I shall then express that by my tongue which this paper should have done.” Denzil Holles assumed the character of Speaker, putting the question: it was returned by the acclamations of the party. The doors were locked and the keys laid on the table. The king sent for the serjeant and mace, but the messenger could obtain no admittance — the usher of the black rod met no more regard. The king then ordered out his guard — in the meanwhile the protest was completed. The door was flung open, the rush of the members was so impetuous that the crowd carried away among them the serjeant and the usher in the confusion and riot. Many of the members were struck by horror amidst this conflict, it was a sad image of the future! Several of the patriots were committed to the Tower. The king on dissolving this parliament, which was the last till the memorable “Long Parliament,” gives us, at least, his idea of it:—“It is far from me to judge all the House alike guilty, for there are there as dutiful subjects as any in the world; it being but some few vipers among them that did cast this mist of undutifulness over most of their eyes.”38
Thus have I traced, step by step, the secret history of Charles the First and his early Parliaments. I have entered into their feelings, while I have supplied new facts, to make everything as present and as true as my faithful diligence could repeat the tale. It was necessary that I should sometimes judge of the first race of our patriots as some of their contemporaries did; but it was impossible to avoid correcting these notions by the more enlarged views of their posterity. This is the privilege of an historian and the philosophy of his art. There is no apology for the king, nor any declamation for the subject. Were we only to decide by the final results of this great conflict, of which what we have here narrated is but the faint beginning, we should confess that Sir John Eliot and his party were the first fathers of our political existence; and we should not withhold from them the inexpressible gratitude of a nation’s freedom! But human infirmity mortifies us in the noblest pursuits of man; and we must be taught this penitential and chastising wisdom. The story of our patriots is involved; Charles appears to have been lowering those high notions of his prerogative, which were not peculiar to him, and was throwing himself on the bosom of his people. The severe and unrelenting conduct of Sir John Eliot, his prompt eloquence and bold invective, well fitted him for the leader of a party. He was the lodestone, drawing together the looser particles of iron. Never sparing, in the monarch, the errors of the man, never relinquishing his royal prey, which he had fastened on, Eliot, with Dr. Turner and some others, contributed to make Charles disgusted with all parliaments. Without any dangerous concessions, there was more than one moment when they might have reconciled the sovereign to themselves, and not have driven him to the fatal resource of attempting to reign without a parliament!39
1 From manuscript letters of the times.
2 Sloane MSS. 4177. Letter 317.
3 The king had said in his speech to parliament, “I must let you know I will not allow any of my servants to be questioned among you, much less such as are of eminent place, and near unto me;” hence the security of Buckingham, who showed the most perfect contempt for the speakers who thus violently attacked him.
4 Our printed historical documents, Kennett, Frankland, &c., are confused in their details, and facts seem misplaced for want of dates. They all equally copy Rushworth, the only source of our history of this period. Even Hume is involved in the obscurity. The king’s speech was on the eleventh of May. As Rushworth has not furnished dates, it would seem that the two orators had been sent to the Tower before the king’s speech to the lords.
5 The king attended the House of Lords to explain his intentions verbally, taking the minister with him, though under impeachment. “Touching the matters against him,” said the king, “I myself can be a witness to clear him in every one of them.”
6 They decided on stopping all business till satisfaction was given them, which ended in the release of Digges and Eliot in a few days.
7 Frankland, an inveterate royalist, in copying Rushworth, inserts “their pretended liberties;” exactly the style of catholic writers when they mention protestantism by “la religion prétendue reformée.” All party writers use the same style!
8 The strength of the popular hatred may be seen in the articles on Buckingham and Felton in vol. ii. Satires in manuscript abounded, and by their broad-spoken pungency rendered the duke a perfect bête noir to the people.
9 Manuscript letter.
10 Rushworth, i. 400. Hume, vi. 221, who enters widely into the views and feelings of Charles.
11 The Radicals of that day differed from ours in the means, though not in the end. They at least referred to their Bibles, and rather more than was required; but superstition is as mad as atheism! Many of the puritans confused their brains with the study of the Revelations; believing Prince Henry to be prefigured in the Apocalypse, some prophesied that he should overthrow “the beast.” Ball, our tailor, was this very prophet; and was so honest as to believe in his own prophecy. Osborn tells, that Ball put out money on adventure; i. e., to receive it back double or treble, when King James should be elected pope! So that though he had no money for a loan, he had to spare for a prophecy.
This Ball has been confounded with a more ancient radical, Ball, a priest, and a principal mover in Wat Tyler’s insurrection. Our Ball must have been very notorious, for Jonson has noticed his “admired discourses.” Mr. Gifford, without any knowledge of my account of this tailor-prophet, by his active sagacity has rightly indicated him. — See Jonson’s Works, vol. v. p. 241.
12 It is curious to observe that the Westminster elections, in the fourth year of Charles’s reign, were exactly of the same turbulent character as those which we witness in our days. The duke had counted by his interest to bring in Sir Robert Pye. The contest was severe, but accompanied by some of those ludicrous electioneering scenes which still amuse the mob. Whenever Sir Robert Pye’s party cried —“A Pye! a Pye! a Pye!” the adverse party would cry —“A pudding! a pudding! a pudding!” and others —“A lie! a lie! a lie!” This Westminster election of two hundred years ago ended as we have seen some others; they rejected all who had urged the payment of the loans; and, passing by such men as Sir Robert Cotton, and their last representative, they fixed on a brewer and a grocer for the two members for Westminster.
13 Extract from a manuscript letter:—“On Friday last I hear, but as a secret, that it was debated at the council-table whether our Essex men, who refused to take press-money, should not be punished by martial-law, and hanged up on the next tree to their dwellings, for an example of terror to others. My lord keeper, who had been long silent, when, in conclusion, it came to his course to speak, told the lords, that as far as he understood the law, none were liable to martial law but martial men. If these had taken press-money, and afterwards run from their colours, they might then be punished in that manner; but yet they were no soldiers, and refused to be. Secondly, he thought a subsidy, new by law, could not be pressed against his will for a foreign service; it being supposed, in law, the service of his purse excused that of his person, unless his own country were in danger; and he appealed to my lord treasurer, and my lord president, whether it was not so, who both assented it was so, though some of them faintly, as unwilling to have been urged to such an answer. So it is thought that proposition is dashed; and it will be tried what may be done in the Star-chamber against these refractories.”
14 A member of the house, in James the First’s time, called this race of divines “Spaniels to the court and wolves to the people.” Dr. Mainwaring, Dr. Sibthorpe, and Dean Bargrave were seeking for ancient precedents to maintain absolute monarchy, and to inculcate passive obedience. Bargrave had this passage in his sermon: “It was the speech of a man renowned for wisdom in our age, that if he were commanded to put forth to sea in a ship that had neither mast nor tackling, he would do it:” and being asked what wisdom that were, replied, “The wisdom must be in him that hath power to command, not in him that conscience binds to obey.” Sibthorpe, after he published his sermon, immediately had his house burnt down. Dr. Mainwaring, says a manuscript letter-writer, “sent the other day to a friend of mine, to help him to all the ancient precedents he could find, to strengthen his opinion (for absolute monarchy), who answered him he could help him in nothing but only to hang him, and that if he lived till a parliament, or, &c., he should be sure of a halter.” Mainwaring afterwards submitted to parliament; but after the dissolution got a free pardon. The panic of popery was a great evil. The divines, under Laud, appeared to approach to Catholicism; but it was probably only a project of reconciliation between the two churches, which Elizabeth, James, and Charles equally wished. Mr. Cosins, a letter-writer, is censured for “superstition” in this bitter style: “Mr. Cosins has impudently made three editions of his prayer-book, and one which he gives away in private, different from the published ones. An audacious fellow, whom my Lord of Durham greatly admireth. I doubt if he be a sound protestant: he was so blind at even-song on Candlemas-day, that he could not see to read prayers in the minster with less than three hundred and forty candles, whereof sixty he caused to be placed about the high altar; besides he caused the picture of our Saviour, supported by two angels, to be set in the choir. The committee is very hot against him, and no matter if they trounce him.” This was Cosins, who survived the revolution, and returning with Charles the Second, was raised to the see of Durham: the charitable institutions he has left are most munificent.
15 Rushworth’s Collections, i. 514.
16 I deliver this fact as I find it in a private letter; but it is noticed in the Journals of the House of Commons, 23 Junii, 4º. Caroli Regis. “Sir Edward Coke reporteth that they find that, enclosed in the letter, to be unfit for any subject’s ear to hear. Read but one line and a half of it, and could not endure to read more of it. It was ordered to be sealed and delivered into the king’s hands by eight members, and to acquaint his majesty with the place and time of finding it; particularly that upon the reading of one line and a half at most, they would read no more, but sealed it up, and brought it to the House.”
17 I have since discovered, by a manuscript letter, that this Dr. Turner was held in contempt by the king; that he was ridiculed at court, which he haunted, for his want of veracity; in a word, that he was a disappointed courtier!
18 This circumstance is mentioned in a manuscript letter; what Cooke declared to the House is in Rushworth, vol. i. p. 525.
19 I refer the critical student of our history to the duke’s speech at the council-table as it appears in Rushworth, i. 525: but what I add respecting his personal sacrifices is from manuscript letters. Sloane MSS. 4177. Letter 490, &c.
20 On this subject, see note to the brief article on Buckingham in vol. i.
21 Curiosities of Literature, First Series, vol. iii. p. 438, ed. 1817; vol. v. p. 277, ed. 1823; vol. iii. p. 429, ed. 1824; vol. iv. p. 148 ed. 1834; p. 301, ed. 1840, or vol. ii. p. 357, of this edition.
22 I find this speech, and an account of its reception, in manuscript letters; the fragment in Rushworth contains no part of it. I. 526. Sloane MSS. 4177. Letter 490, &c.
23 Modern history would afford more instances than perhaps some of us suspect. I cannot pass over an illustration of my principle, which I shall take from two very notorious politicians — Wat Tyler and Sir William Walworth!
Wat, when in servitude, had been beaten by his master, Richard Lyons, a great merchant of wines, and a sheriff of London. This chastisement, working on an evil disposition, appears never to have been forgiven; and when this Radical assumed his short-lived dominion, he had his old master beheaded, and his head carried before him on the point of a spear! So Grafton tells us, to the eternal obloquy of this arch-jacobin, who “was a crafty fellow, and of an excellent wit, but wanting grace.” I would not sully the patriotic blow which ended the rebellion with the rebel; yet there are secrets in history! Sir William Walworth, “the ever famous mayor of London,” as Stowe designates him, has left the immortality of his name to one of our suburbs; but having discovered in Stowe’s “Survey,” that Walworth was the landlord of the stews on the Bank-side, which he farmed out to the Dutch vrows, and which Wat had pulled down, I am inclined to suspect that private feeling first knocked down the saucy ribald, and then thrust him through and through with his dagger; and that there was as much of personal vengeance as patriotism, which crushed the demolisher of so much valuable property!
24 I have formed my idea of Sir Francis Nethersole from some strange incidents in his political conduct, which I have read in some contemporary letters. He was, however, a man of some eminence, had been Orator for the University of Cambridge, agent for James I. with the Princes of the Union in Germany, and also Secretary to the Queen of Bohemia. He founded and endowed a free-school at Polesworth in Warwickshire.
25 Manuscript letter.
26 These speeches are entirely drawn from those manuscript letters to which I have frequently referred. Coke’s may be substantially found in Rushworth, but without a single expression as here given.
27 The popular opinion is well expressed in the following lines preserved in Sloane MS. 826:—
When only one doth rule and guide the ship,
Who neither card nor compass knew before,
The master pilot and the rest asleep,
The stately ship is split upon the shore;
But they awaking start up, stare, and cry,
“Who did this fault?”—“Not I,”—“Nor I,”—“Nor I.”
So fares it with a great and wealthy state
Not govern’d by the master, but his mate.
28 This last letter is printed in Rushworth, vol. i. p. 609.
29 The king’s answer is in Rushworth, vol. i. p. 613.
30 This eloquent state paper is in Rushworth, vol. i. p. 619.
31 This interview is taken from manuscript letters.
32 Manuscript Letters: Lord Dorset to the Earl of Carlisle. — Sloane MSS. 4178. Letter 519.
33 Manuscript Letter.
34 I have given (vol. ii. p. 336) the “Secret History of Charles the First and his Queen,” where I have traced the firmness and independence of his character. In another article will be found as much of the “Secret History of the Duke of Buckingham” as I have been enabled to acquire.
35 “To conclude,” said the king; “let us not be jealous one of the other’s actions.”
36 Monday, 2nd of March, 1629.
37 It was imagined out of doors that swords had been drawn; for a Welsh page running in great haste, when he heard the noise, to the door, cried out, “I pray you let hur in! let hur in! to give hur master his sword!”— Manuscript Letter.
38 At the time many undoubtedly considered that it was a mere faction in the house. Sir Symonds D’Ewes was certainly no politician — but, unquestionably, his ideas were not peculiar to himself. Of the last third parliament he delivers this opinion in his Diary: “I cannot deem but the greater part of the house were morally honest men; but these were the least guilty of the fatal breach, being only misled by some other Machiavelian politics, who seemed zealous for the liberty of the commonwealth, and by that means, in the moving of their outward freedom, drew the votes of those good men to their side.”
39 Since the publication of the present article, I have composed my “Commentaries on the Life and Reign of Charles the First,” in five volumes.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07